In Sex/Gender: Biology In A Social World (Routledge 2012), Anne Fausto-Sterling, a biologist-sociologist at Brown University, lays bare myths surrounding sex binaries and exposes just what the sex/gender spectrum means in biological and sociological terms.
According to Fausto-Sterling, "the social organization and expression of human sexuality are neither timeless nor universal." With elegant explanation of how social norms have evolved over time, Fausto-Sterling offers a thorough explanation of how many different factors influence sex and how social forces influence both sex and gender.
Fausto-Sterling shows how sex and gender are distinct from each other, but at the same time inextricably bound to one another. Our biological sex is actually misnomer for a handful of sex stages (chromosomal sex, fetalgonadal sex, fetal hormonal sex, fetal internal reproductive sex, brain sex, and internal genital sex, pubertal hormonal sex, pubertal erotic sex and pubertal morphological sex), which Fausto-Sterling explains through intricate charts, graphs, and analysis. Perhaps the most intriguing section in this book is the chapter on how gender and sex relate to sexual orientation. Many queers will find the treatment fascinating and affirming, as many of us have grappled with tensions between sexual identity and sexual orientation within and outside of our communities. I personally found her discussion to be immensely helpful in understanding how my first girlfriend who transitioned into a man and later identified as a gay man fits into the whole spectrum of human identity.
Fausto-Sterling explains that in the past men wore pink as it was seen as the stronger, more masculine color, and women wore blue as it was seen as dainty. In addition to providing a lay-person's guide to what sex is and how it is different from gender, she exposes the biological factors that may determine sex, and how sex itself is so tied to status in our society. Our governments organize our lives around sex (passports, athletic competitions, bathroom), yet
the spectrum is way more complicated than our either/or binary allows. This may be sex/gender 101 to some folks, but I promise, it's got enough layers and academic punch to interest anyone interested in the subject.
I'll admit, I got a bit lost in some of the graphs and examples. Fausto-Sterling intended this book to appeal to the masses, and while her prose is light, peppered with humor and highly readable, the topics she covers are complex and often highly scientific. If you weren't paying attention in your gender studies class, this will cover basics and you can skip over the complex charts of gonadal sex development. But if you're truly curious about how different stages of development lead to sex differentiation and how gender is both biologically and socially determined and changes over time, I think you'll be pleasantly treated with this little tome.
Review by Sarah E. Brown (http://www.queerveganfood.com) Twitter: @Queerveganfood